I stood in a kitchen where only a year and a half ago I was serving nachos and opening beer bottles for a bunch of well-off business people in town.
It was where I met some of the crew I would be working with for the following year. I didn’t know anyone, but I knew how to cook and I knew how to open beer bottles.
I needed the cash, so the chef of the event called me up and said they could use me and would pay me at the end of the night. It was my first job back in Mississippi. I was stationed outside in 90% humidity and was drenched by the first hour. The girl I was working next to sliced her hand open on an attempt to open a stubborn beer bottle.
She gasped and bent over. Blood was dripping from her hand as she whispered to me, “I’ve gotta go…” and off she went to the E.R. for stitches. Even after that, the ‘bros’ waiting for their beer were still adamant on that bottle. So, I smiled and said cheers.
Fast forward to now, standing in that same kitchen as a head chef of a breakfast and lunch spot, and also a catering program with a crew that is equal parts hard working and kind and generous. Granted we have our scuffles like all kitchens do, but it is intense, back-breaking labor. Don’t ever get stuck in this trade unless you love it, or it will eat you alive.
I sit here now, in the sunken part of my bed after a nearly 100hr work week of Christmas parties and drop-offs and busy cafe days. My belly is full of hash browns, poached eggs and coffee.
I kinda felt like crying when it was done. I cook all of our catering food from scratch. Bechamel, marinara, ragu. I break down enough chickens for 150 people and cram their bones full of crushed garlic and thyme.
I intentionally put stress on my clock so the meat isn’t sitting around all day. It’s all about timing and pressure. So much pressure. Imagine waking up knowing that 200 people have to eat in eight hours and you have to cook it all. It’s a lot of f!@#$!@ pressure.
Also it’s a lot of dirty dishes. (And I do those, too.)
So yeah, I am relieved today. Happy, for the most part. Tired and my hands are torn to pieces from tossing around sharp chicken bones and the inside of my arms are burnt from reaching in the oven and being tired and careless.
I am proud.
Of my crew, and all their hard work and sacrifice. Missing their own Christmas parties and traditions to help uphold others. They are servants at heart and they are the reason these things work. It’s funny, and I think we all sort of think that we wouldn’t be able to do it if it wasn’t for the other person.
And that’s how this stuff works. Accountability and respect. Getting paid fairly doesn’t hurt either, and when it comes to wealthy southerners, we don’t mind putting in a little extra.
With all that being said, I am filled to the brim with thanks.
I am thankful for this quiet space I have today. Not many people get that luxury.
I’m thinking about a lot of people and a lot of things…and if where I am now is a testament in how to treat others and move forward, then I can only imagine where we’ll be next year.